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African Violets – General Maintenance
By Kathleen Franklin (kfranklin@potomacnet.com)

The African violet (Saintpaulia) is an excellent flowering house plant, and these days there are more varieties than ever! Here’s a short primer on how to take care of them.

* Light – African violets need bright, indirect light – not direct sunlight – for about 8 – 12 hours per day, but they can manage with less, too. An east or north window is best. If the leaves are darker and/or thinner than leaves on plants getting more light, then the plant needs more light. Too little light also translates into fewer flowers. Too much light turns leaves pale or yellowish green, and growth slows down. African violets respond well to fluorescent light for 15-18 hours/day.
* Temperature – African violets prefer night temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees F, but will grow satisfactorily at 60 to 80 degrees F. They tolerate dry air, but thrive better in humid conditions. You can boost humidity by setting pots on top of trays of gravel and watering the gravel.
* Soil –You can find special soil mixes for African violets, or you can mix your own: equal parts potting soil, sphagnum, and perlite. Soil mixtures should have a pH of about 6.0 to 6.5 — slightly acidic — for best results.
* Water – Drainage is crucial. Plants in clay pots require more frequent watering than those in plastic pots since evaporation is greater. Decorative glazed pots without drainage holes are generally unsatisfactory. Water whenever the surface soil feels dry to the touch, but before it becomes hard or the plant wilts. African violets may be watered from the top or bottom. When watering from the top, apply sufficient water to surface soil to thoroughly saturate it and discard excess water which drains through the bottom of the pot. Watering from the bottom may be done by placing the pot in a container to which about 1” water is added. When the soil surface becomes moist, remove the pot and pour out of excess water. “Wick” watering may also be used. Finally, water temperature should be no cooler than room temperature. Tepid is best. Place the pot in a wide, deep saucer; saucers that are too snug are undesirable.
* Fertilizer – Fading leaf color and a slow-down in growth and flowering usually indicates that fertilizer is needed. I recommend Jack’s, a granular fertilizer specially formulated for African violets.

2007 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a Montgomery county, MD -certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact kfranklin@potomacnet.com